Russia to enrich Iranian uranium

Iran has agreed to allow UN nuclear watchdog inspectors to supervise its new enrichment plant. The talks in Geneva also led to an agreement in principle to enrich some Iranian uranium in Russia and France.

After Thursday’s talks in Geneva, Barack Obama, who described negotiations with Iran as “constructive”, hinted that the long-standing Iranian nuclear dispute could be resolved with the help of a third party.

“The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] proposal that was agreed to in principle today with regard to the Tehran research reactor is a confidence-building step that is consistent with that objective – provided that it transfers Iran's low enriched uranium to a third country for fuel fabrication,” he said.

Interfax, citing a high-ranking US official, writes that IAEA officials will meet on October 18 to work out the details of an agreement that would allow Russia and France to enrich Iran's uranium as part of civilian projects.

According to an anonymous source in the US delegation – Russia has offered to be that third party. It would mean that 4% enriched uranium from Iran would be brought to Russia to be enriched to 19.75% – the level needed for civil nuclear applications. This – according to US authorities – would make Iran’s program transparent to the world and prove that its nuclear intentions are peaceful.

“An experimental reactor in Tehran produces isotopes for medical needs,” said Sergey Ryabkov, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Ministry. “Some time ago Iran asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to provide supplies of enriched uranium for that reactor, as all the fuel in it has burnt out. It couldn’t go on working.”

Russia's nuclear agency, Rosatom, has confirmed it is ready to receive Iran’s nuclear fuel. In fact, it has been ready for quite a while.

It is not the first time that Moscow has offered a helping hand in resolving the Iranian nuclear dispute. Three years ago Russia proposed creating a joint company which would have enriched Iran’s uranium on its soil, but back then Tehran did not seize upon the initiative.

“In the past, Iranians several times accepted offers – for example, from the Russian Federation – to enrich uranium on Russian soil, but then they suddenly refused to do so,”Vladimir Sotnikov from the Institute of World Economy and International Relations told RT.

The most serious problem with Iran, Sotnikov says, is that they would “very much like to enrich uranium by themselves, on their own soil.”

This time it isn’t the only agreement that’s been reached. Tehran also allowed IAEA observers to resume their work in the country’s nuclear sites – namely the new uranium enrichment facility in the town of Qom about 150 km southwest of Tehran. Both agreements have been met positively by all sides.

“This is a very skillful and surprising face-saving agreement by Iran. They are effectively reducing the amount of uranium they have and there’s a tremendous confidence-building gesture,” Michael Adler from the Woodrow Wilson Institute said.

Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, said, “Last year we came up with several initiatives and suggestion in the talks, but they were all halted.” Now, he went on, “I have a feeling that the talks would go ahead and we would only progress.”

According to Sergey Ryabkov, “Iran positively responds to calls of the international community – including president Medvedev’s words in Pittsburgh – on the urgent need for the IAEA to gain access to nuclear facilities in Iran.”

“As far as we know, the Agency’s President Mohamed ElBaradei will arrive to Tehran to discuss how to implement it,” he said.

Elbaradei will be in the Iranian capital as soon as on Saturday, reports RIA Novosti citing Iranian state-run news agency ISNA.

Despite the general optimism, the White House is still being cautious with the Islamic Republic. Obama said it is necessary that Iran matches words with actions and allow IAEA observers into its nuclear facilities. Otherwise, the president says, sanctions against Tehran are unavoidable.

Moscow says that it is now just a matter of weeks until the issue could be resolved and that vital negotiations will resume this month.